There’s been talk recently about providing free estimates. Should HVAC contractors charge for estimates to recover our basic costs like time and fuel?

I believe that if there is no perception of value for a service on the part of the customer, then you can’t reasonably expect them to apply a value to it.

In an ideal world, we would receive compensation for every minute, mile, and gallon. In reality, this is simply a cost of doing business.

We have to make the best use of this time and effort in order to achieve the most favorable outcome for both ourselves and our customer.

I recently had a conversation with a salesman, and he indicated that he didn’t believe the person he was talking with was a solid prospect. As a result, he gave the person a ‘ball park’ figure over the phone. His reasoning was with the cost of gas, and the fact that the person appeared to be ‘shopping around’ it wasn’t worth the time to make the trip out to their house.

I immediately asked him, “Would you make a trip to the customer’s house to pick up a work order?” Of course he would. I then told him, “You’re trying to rationalize your decision not to make an investment in the process by indicating that you don’t have a commitment up-front from the customer.”

I tell folks that I invest time in the process. Of course along with the investment of time comes the survey, observations, recommendations, load calculations, etc, in order to match the customers’ wants and needs.

I told the same salesman, “If you thought you could invest $10 in fuel and 2 hours of your time in order to bring in a new job, would you be willing to make the investment?” Well, as you can imagine, without hesitation he said “yes.”

I believe this was an attempt to ‘pre-qualify’ the lead under the pretense that he didn’t want to invest the time or the money that is required on our part. If it wasn’t a necessary part of the process, then we could simply sit and wait for the phone to ring and write up the work order. I hope that you value customer service and don’t just view yourself as simply an ‘order taker.’

If you bring something of value to the order process-even if it’s no more than your physical presence- then you’ve indicated to the customer that YOU are willing to invest in the process. If you determine that YOU are a valuable and integral part of the process, this will become apparent to the customer.

Take the time to make time available to the customer. It’ll pay dividends in the long run.

John L. Lloyd has been involved with HVAC for the past 30 years in a variety of positions and has presented programs and seminars for groups both in and out of this industry. John can be reached at jlloyd@prudentialhvac.com. He welcomes your comments!